Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez
Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, has died in hospital at the age of 58 after developing a severe respiratory infection during his battle with cancer, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro announced yesterday night.
A government spokesman had earlier said that the far-left leader, who has held control of the country for 19 years, was in a 'very delicate' condition in hospital. Details of Chavez's health have been cloaked in mystery since he was first diagnosed with the disease in June 2011.
Venezuelan Communications Minister, Ernesto Villegas, earlier appeared on national television last night to announce that the president was suffering from 'a new, severe infection'. It was learnt that Chavez, 58, had been undergoing 'chemotherapy of strong impact,' Villegas added.
The president has neither been seen nor heard from, except for a couple of hospital bed photos, since submitting to a fourth round of surgery in Cuba in December for an unspecified cancer in the pelvic area.
The government official said he returned home on February 18 and had been confined to Caracas' military hospital since.
Villegas added that Chavez was “standing by Christ and life conscious of the difficulties he faces.” He called on Chavez's supporters, who include thousands of well-armed militias, to be 'on a war footing'.
The president's death is expected to trigger a snap election, though the opposition has argued that it should have been held after Chavez was unable to be sworn in on January 10.
Chavez has run Venezuela for more than 14 years as a virtual one-man show, gradually placing all state institutions under his personal control. But the former army paratroops officer who rose to fame with a failed 1992 coup, never groomed a successor with his force of personality.
He was last re-elected last October, and his challenger, Henrique Capriles, the youthful governor of Miranda State, is expected to be the opposition's candidate again.
One of Chavez's three daughters, Maria Gabriela, earlier expressed thanks to well-wishers via her Twitter account, saying: “We will prevail!” she wrote, echoing a favourite phrase of her father, ‘With God always’.
There had been speculation that Chavez's cancer has spread to his lungs. Maduro had last week said the president had begun receiving chemotherapy around the end of January. Doctors said such therapy was not necessarily to try to beat Chavez's cancer into remission but could have been palliative, to extend Chavez's life and ease his suffering.
While in Cuba, the late president suffered a severe respiratory infection that nearly killed him. A tracheal tube was inserted then and government officials said his breathing remained laboured.